It was a totally stunning Gala last night at the Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber hosted by the Auckland Opera Studio. Perhaps at no other time in the history of Aotearoa will we have so many of our top operatic performers ‘captive’ in this country. Featured in the evening were the baritone Benson Wilson, tenors Manase Latu and Amitai Pati (Sol3Mio), sopranos Eliza Boom and Natasha Wilson and pianist Somi Kim (NZ Trio).
Congratulations to Frances Wilson and The Auckland Opera Studio for drawing together this programme and these artists. They could have sold a week of performances in the superb vaulted acoustic of the Concert Chamber. Tickets were fiercely hard to get hold of and even this writer had to put a special plea in for a seat, and wow am I glad I got a ticket.
One thing is abundantly clear, in New Zealand we are blessed with good voices. Must be something in the water. Or perhaps it is something to do with the wonderful tradition of singing in our Pacific communities. Here are five artists who are breaking onto the world stages in the States and in Europe and we had the unique honour to hear them all in one evening.
Drawing the evening together with top charm was MC Pene Pati. He won us over before even a note was sung with his warm-hearted introductions, making every one of us feel like ‘part of the family’. It remains a mystery why this (also Sol3Mio) national tenor treasure wasn’t singing tonight. Although he did a comic turn in the encore, we certainly enjoyed his shaping of the evening.
So where to begin to describe the evening?! I can honestly say not one foul note fell out of these artists’ mouths. And with some of the most technically demanding repertoire around, all the singers sang with Olympic strength. All Blacks of the Singing World indeed to quote our MC.
I doubt if I live an extra-long life that I will hear Ebben ne andrò lontana from La Wally sung better than Eliza Boom did last night. Since I first heard her singing in a New Zealand Opera in the Park concert her outstanding voice has become secure throughout the range with a sparkling top and a pianissimo spin to die for. Not only the technique, but Boom feels every phrase with moving tenderness and beauty.
To hear Benson Wilson perform again after hearing him win the Lexus Song Quest in 2016 was very special. What a polished taonga of a voice, gleaming and nuanced. Paired with Amitai Pati in the beloved Pearl Fishers duet they lifted the roof off with their ravishing ring. As well as Korngold and a beautiful Avant de quitter ces lieux, Wilson will perform again for the Studio later this month in a song recital which will reveal why he won the coveted Kathleen Ferrier Award.
As for the spinning gossamer of Manase Latu’s top notes …. Bizet’s Je crois entendre encore also from Pearl Fishers was perfect repertoire for Latu’s sweetness of tone. Here was a true Bel Canto lyrico tenor, I could swear there was a Pavarotti-like sound to his dolcissimo tenor. And knocking out nine top-C’s in Donizetti’s Ah! mes amis quel jour des fêtes was simply showing off! The audience loved every note.
Natasha Wilson’s daring choice of the Presentation of the Rose aria from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier may still be repertoire in progress but what a great occasion to perform these kinds of arias. What an astonishing voice with a new spinto beauty since I last heard her sing. And although we didn’t get to hear Bernstein’s Glitter and be Gay (a step too far?), Wilson’s Je Veux Vivre could have graced the Royal Opera House stage. And I could swear she knocked out a top E in the Brinidisi encore!
Perhaps one of the most exciting voices of the evening was Amitai Pati. He is a risk-taker which is essential in the dangerous field of the Italian heroic tenor’s repertoire. Resonances of Placido Domingo here, the darkness of tone, the commitment to phrasing. Since first hearing Pati sing, his voice has gained in power, confidence and beauty with top notes of hair-raising heroism. Some more risky repertoire but how wonderful to hear one of the songs from Liszt’s Tre Sonetti di Petraca and in style they were not out of place in the operatic programme.
We cannot go further down the page without mentioning the superlative Somi Kim on piano. Her playing in the Petrarch Sonnets was deeply moving. Throughout the programme she played with sparkle, meaning and flair, giving these artists world-class sounds from the piano.
To hear Benson Wilson and Amitai Pati together performing Verdi's Don Carlos felt like two voices belonging together on stage. After a superb Un di felice (Traviata) sung by Boom and Pati, I was hoping Benson would get to show us his Verdi chops. Don Carlos’ Ascolta! Dio che nell’alma infondere was an absolute knock-out and perhaps one of the best renditions I have heard of this well-loved duet.
With two encores of crowd-pleasing favourites including a joyful sharing of Verdi's Brindisi, and with some well-deserved roses and bottles of wine for the artists, this wonderful evening was over. A triumph of opera in a stunning acoustic with world-class Kiwi artists. Lucky Auckland.
Auckland Opera Studio Gala Programme
In un coupé?... O Mimì, tu più non torni from La bohème, Puccini
Ebben? Ne andrò lontana from La Wally, Catalani
Ah! Mes amis quel jour des fêtes from La Fille du Régiment, Donizetti
Tornami a dir from Don Pasquale, Donizetti
Ich bin euer Liebden from Der Rosenkavalier, R. Strauss
Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen from Die tote Stadt, Korngold
Du bist die Welt für mich from Der singende Traum, Richard Tauber
O qual pallor... Un di felice from La Traviata, Verdi
Soave sia il vento from Così fan tutte, Mozart
Pace non trovo from Tre Sonetti di Petrarca, Liszt
Mir ist so wunderbar from Fidelio, Beethoven
September from Vier Letzte Lieder, R. Strauss
Pourquoi me reveiller from Werther, Massenet
Avant de quitter ces lieux from Faust, Gounod
Je crois entendre encore from Les Pêcheurs de perles, Bizet
Au fond du temple saint from Les Pêcheurs de perles, Bizet
And I must live eight long days from Die Fledermaus, Johann Strauss
Je veux vivre from Romeo et Juliette, Gounod
Ascolta! ... Dio che nell'alma infondere Don Carlos, Verdi
O soave fanciulla from La bohème, Puccini.
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